3 Easy E-Tricks for Writers, and 1 for Fun

Portion of a Macintosh keyboard. The Shift key has been replaced with a "Magic" key.

Almost every writer I know has a love-hate relationship with their writing program, whether it’s Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, or a yellow legal pad. It’s clear there’s no single perfect choice for drafting, editing, and formatting your work for publication.

Scrivener is great for drafting but has limited formatting capabilities. Docs is great for collaborations, and it can handle basic formatting, but it lacks compatibility with professional formatting and editing tools like PerfectIt and the add-ins from the Editorium. MS Word is the publishing workhorse, more or less required for submitting to agents and editors and publishers, but it’s pricey and not always friendly.

Getting to know your word processor better will help you love it more. Here are some moves you can use in Word and Docs and sometimes Scrivener.

1. Different First Page

If your manuscript has page numbers (and why wouldn’t it), you may want to hide the page number on the cover page or title page.

In MS Word, make sure the document header is visible. Double-click anywhere in the header, and the Header and Footer menu will appear in the ribbon. In the Options section, check the box for Different First Page. The page number on the first page will disappear. (The page is numbered; you just can’t see it.) Check out the other options while you’re at it.

The Different First Page option on the MS Word ribbon.

In the free online version of MS Word, either click on the header tab in the top right of the document or go to the Insert menu and click on Header & Footer. Your cursor will land in the Header. Click on the Options arrow to find Different First Page. (Use Reading view or a print preview to check your results.)

In Google Docs, choose the Format menu, then Headers and Footers, then Different First Page. Alternatively, when you first insert page numbers, you can uncheck the “Show on first page” option.

(Scrivener discourages the use of page numbers during drafting; pagination can be tweaked after export into another application like MS Word.)

2. Voice Narration

Writers are increasingly pressured to have as many eyes on their manuscript as possible before submitting it: from writer friends, their critique group, beta readers, hired authenticity readers, developmental editors, copyeditors, proofreaders. Many writers pay thousands of dollars for freelance editorial help before they publish.

But not everyone can afford to have umpteen readers of their work! And reading it over and over yourself has diminishing returns.

One way to hear your work “fresh” is to have it read out loud to you. Ideally this would be by a trained voice actor. (Yeah, right.) In real life, you’d be lucky to get any human to read it to you. It’s a big ask.

That’s where your word processor comes in. Sure, its speech is stilted and it goofs now and then, but you’ll be amazed at the benefits nonetheless. You will catch typos, repetition, draggy passages, and confusion. You’ll probably find yourself pausing here and there to rewrite, delete, or clarify. (In most cases, there’s a quick keyboard command for starting and stopping the voice.)

To access the feature in MS Word, click on Read Aloud in the Review menu. In the free Word app, click on the dots (…) at the top right to find the feature, or, depending on your device and operating system, you may find it as Immersive Reader in the View menu. Not all devices and versions support these features; search online to find out if yours does.

In Google Docs you can download an extension and adjust the Accessibility settings the first time you want to be read to, but after that you’re set. In Scrivener, go to the Edit menu and choose Speech > Start Speaking.

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If you choose to rely on your operating system’s voice option (such as Narrator in Windows or VoiceOver on a Mac), a Google search like “text to speech on [your device and operating system]” will lead you to specific instructions for turning the feature on. Be aware that the user experience may be different from the in-app reader with regard to which parts of the page get read aloud and how the controls work.

Alternatively, there are both free and paid third-party text-to-speech apps like Speechify and Balabolka that will read aloud text that you point them to.

3. Watermark

There are times when writers want to label a work in progress as a draft or make their pages harder to copy. A good way to do this is to put a transparent watermark on every page.

To make a watermark in MS Word, go to the Design menu and choose Watermark in the Page Background section.

The Watermark option on the MS Word ribbon.

Pick one of the prefab watermarks or make your own.

In Google Docs, choose Insert, then Watermark. Google Docs doesn’t offer ready-made watermarks, but making your own is as easy as typing in the words you want and clicking Done. Both Word and Docs let you change the size, font, and transparency of the watermark.

Word for the web and Scrivener have no watermark option.

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When you submit a manuscript to an agent or editor, the pages should be free of watermarks, copyrights, and other disclaimers implying that you don’t trust the reader with your work—not cool. Watermarks can be annoying in any case, so be sure to consider the reader. And don’t forget: Anyone who knows how to search online can probably remove your watermark.

The ready-made “Draft” watermark in MS Word.

A custom-made watermark in MS Word. Do Not Touch! graphic courtesy FreeSVG.

For Fun: Format Painter

Agents, editors, and publishers are no fun when it comes to manuscript formatting (they seem stuck on 12 pt black type), but creative writers are creative! So here’s some formatting fun.

Both Word and Docs have cute little icons for “painting” one format over another (Scrivener lacks this feature). In both cases, select a chunk of text whose format (font, type size, color, centering, etc.) you want to capture. Once the text is highlighted, click on the Format Painter tool in the Home/main menu. (In Word, it’s a tiny paintbrush; in Docs, a tiny paint roller.) Your cursor will change in appearance to include a paintbrush or roller. The next text you click (or select) with your cursor will receive the new format.

To get the hang of format painting, experiment in a document that contains various styles and formats.

The Format Painter in MS Word (left) and the Format Roller in Google Docs (right).

More on Word-Processing in Fiction+

Paragraphing in Manuscripts for Submission

Move Book Chapters with a Click

Format a Novel for Submission


Magic key image by Survey Hacks, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Fiction+ posts at Shop Talk reflect the opinions of its authors and not necessarily those of The Chicago Manual of Style or the University of Chicago Press.

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Carol SallerCarol Saller, The Subversive Copy Editor, 2nd editionCarol Saller’s books include The Subversive Copy Editor and the young adult novel Eddie’s War. You can find Carol online at Twitter (@SubvCopyEd) and at www.carolsaller.com.

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